HIS zipping down the left flank betrays that James Tavernier is a man in a hurry. The full-back’s displays in Rangers colours have told of a player in a hurry to make the right impression at his new club, and in a hurry to gain privileges in the posting.
The 23-year-old, who will make his competitive bow at Ibrox in today’s League Cup tie against Peterhead, can expect to be on free-kicks and set-pieces. His delightful dead-ball delivery that set in motion the 6-2 defeat of Hibernian in last week’s Petrofac Training Cup tie should see to that.
“I forced my way to the front of the queue for free-kicks,” said the signing from Wigan. “I tried to do it in training, but Nicky Law produced one of his own. I thought I had competition but when it got to the game I decided I would take it. There will be no argument. If it’s on the other side Andy Halliday might fancy it but we’ll have to have a little discussion about that…
“I scored a couple when I was on loan at Rotherham, so I practised a lot when I was down there. I like taking them and I was always on set-pieces at Wigan, corners and free-kicks. I scored two last year – two against Bradford in the same game, but they weren’t free-kicks. The season before I scored two free-kicks and a couple of other ones. I’m trying to add more goals to my game.”
It is what Tavernier can add to Mark Warburton’s team that excites the Rangers faithful. He instantly looked the part in the friendly loss to Burnley which came on the day he and fellow Wigan arrival Martyn Waghorn committed their futures to the Ibrox side. A product of the Leeds United youth academy, Tavernier moved to Newcastle United in his mid-teens.
He was given a senior start as a 17-year-old but was then farmed out to Gateshead, Carlisle, Sheffield Wednesday, Milton Keynes Dons, Shrewsbury and Rotherham before he left Newcastle permanently last summer for Wigan. Before long he was packed off to Bristol City and his many experiences with short-term deals makes him fit the Warburton identikit for players used to being required to impact instantly.
When I was at Leeds, we’d have competitions to smash into each other. That’s definitely in my game
Even if he will be nominally a backline performer, Tavernier has designs on impressing going forward. “I’m very attacking. I like Marcelo, even though he’s on the left-hand side. I like Dani Alves too. They’re the kind of full-backs I like – very good on the ball, getting forward and they can handle the defensive side of things well. My goal is to make sure the winger is going to be defending more than me in a game.”
Tavernier has no grumbles over swapping a lack of glamour in England’s third tier for even more reductive rumbles across a Championship with teams and grounds he would hardly have glimpsed since his non-league loan spells. The Rangers manager has said he will require his players to be “street-fighter” in handling small-time opponents looking to scalp their big-name Ibrox opponents. Tavernier welcomes the certain scraps.
“I think we’ve got a lot of hungry young players and experienced ones to go with it. Every game is going to be a battle and you have to go into every game with the mentality that it’s going to be a fight and you want to be on top every time. The more you realise it’s going to be a tough game the better prepared you’re going to be.
“As a Yorkshireman, we used to love going in for hard challenges. When I was in the academy at Leeds, we’d have competitions to smash into each other. That’s definitely in my game. I love going in for 50-50s. My first loan was to Gateshead in the Conference. So I went from the under-21s at Newcastle, playing in nice stadiums to man’s football where people played for a living. It was a massive thing for me. We won’t be going to the most glamorous places and they tend to be the hardest games. Everyone wants to beat Rangers and it will be a battle every time.
“You’ll see throughout the year we’ll get games where it’s really tough and it won’t be a comfortable season where we’ll have to stick together and have a good battle on the pitch. All the lads here have definitely got that in their locker. I’ve seen that in training with 50-50s.”
What Tavernier has also witnessed in an almost completely redrawn Rangers side under Warburton is a team capable of producing attractive football. In a manner, indeed, that was all-too-absent from previous Ibrox incarnations across recent years. From outing one, Tavernier felt he was on to something, and his display made the Rangers punters feel that way about him too.
“I was taken aback by how well we played against Burnley, though we lost. We’ve not been together that long but the first 30 minutes showed what we’re capable of against a good Championship team. We started off a bit slowly against Hibs, but as soon as we identified what we had to do we were very strong in the second half.
“The gaffer has set bar for where we need to be, he’s asked us to demand more of each other and we want to be better players. He’s bringing us in every day and we’re working hard to be better. He’s got his set way he wants us to play and the whole team enjoys that and it’s only going to get better and better throughout the season.”